Friday, April 4, 2008

Q & A: Engagement and Pre-wedding Plans

Etiquette authority Peggy answers the most frequently asked questions on weddings, engagements, and showers.

Engagement and Pre-wedding Plans

  • What happens if an engagement is broken?

    The bride immediately returns the engagement ring and other gifts of value her fiancé has given her. Her fiancé also returns any gifts of value given to him. Gifts from friends and relatives should be returned to them, along with a brief note explaining that the engagement has been broken.

  • What are the guidelines for the number of ushers and bridesmaids to have in a wedding?

    Although it depends on the formality and size of the wedding, a practical rule of thumb is to have one usher for every 50 guests. There may be more ushers than bridesmaids, but not the other way around.

  • Who hosts the rehearsal dinner and who attends it? Should out-of-town guests who arrive the day before the wedding be invited?

    Typically, the groom's parents host the rehearsal dinner, but it's not obligatory and anyone may host it. Guests usually include the families of the bride and groom, the attendants, and the spouses, fiancé(e)s, and live-in companions of the attendants. It's a thoughtful gesture, but not a must, to invite out-of-town guests.

  • Wedding Etiquette: Second Wedding

  • Are parents obligated to pay for a daughter's second wedding if they paid for her first?

    No, although many parents do offer to help pay some of the expenses. Often, the bride and groom pay the expenses themselves, especially when parents paid for a first wedding. The decision is entirely up to the couple and their families.

  • Is it appropriate for a bride to invite her ex-husband and former in-laws to her second wedding?

    It's usually best to exclude an ex-spouse (his attendance could upset some of the other guests), but inviting former in-laws is another story. If the groom and his family don't mind their presence, and if the bride and her former in-laws feel comfortable, then it's fine to invite them.
  • Wedding Etiquette: Ceremony and Reception

  • How does a bride-to-be decide who should walk her down the aisle if she is close to both her father and her stepfather?

    It's her choice. It's fine to select either one, though generally better to ask the one to whom she's closest. If she's equally close to both, she might find it most diplomatic to fall back on tradition and ask her biological father to escort her.

  • If a bride prefers to omit the traditional phrase "Who gives this woman. . . ?" from the wedding ceremony, are there any acceptable alternatives she can request?

    Yes. The officiating clergyman may say, "Who will support and bless this marriage?" or "Who represents the families in blessing this marriage?"

  • What are the guidelines these days for the bride who wants to wear white even if she has been married before or has a child?

    Since white is considered to be a sign of joy, it is perfectly appropriate for second-time brides and those with children to wear it. But the tradition still stands that these brides not wear veils (unless required by religious custom), gowns with trains, or carry orange blossoms.

  • Is it written that the bride's parents have to foot the entire bill? Isn't that an unfair burden for one set of parents?

    The traditional division of wedding expenses has undergone a big change in recent years, and there are now several acceptable versions. It's now considered perfectly all right -- and often makes much sense -- for the bride, the groom, and/or the groom's parents to offer to share the costs of a wedding with the bride's parents. One option gaining some popularity: the bride and groom paying all expenses themselves. No matter how, or if, the costs are divided, keep in mind that the simplest wedding is often the most beautiful.

  • How would one arrange church seating for a wedding where the groom's parents are divorced -- his mother is now remarried and the father is currently engaged?

    The groom's mother and her new husband should sit in the front pew on the right side of the aisle. Other members of the immediate family should sit in the pew immediately behind. The groom's father and his fiancé should sit in the next pew, along with their family members.

  • My stepdaughter, who's been estranged from her father for the past five years (he was divorced from her mother years ago), is now asking him to pay her wedding expenses and offer his country club facilities for the reception. Yet she doesn't want him to walk her down the aisle or have any say about the guest list. Is this fair?

    No. Your stepdaughter can't have it both ways. If her father is willing to pay expenses, he becomes the wedding host and has a say about the guest list. However, if his daughter feels more comfortable walking down the aisle alone or with her mother, that's her choice.

  • My fiancé expects to be involved in all aspects of our wedding, but my mom doesn't think it's proper. What do you say?

    Tell your mother your fiancé is right in line with the growing trend of today's grooms being actively involved in their weddings. Many men are having their say in everything from choosing items for the gift registry to selecting music or readings for the ceremony; some even attend wedding fashion shows and are honored at "couples showers."

    There are several reasons why: Grooms these days are apt to be older and better established and so may be paying some or most of the expenses. Divorce can be a factor too: A man marrying for a second or third time tends to know what he wants; also, if his children are participating in the ceremony (often the case), then he's more interested in what's going on.
    What I'm hearing from women is that they love having their fiancés involved. Certainly, there are more than enough duties to share — including writing all those thank-you notes!

  • I've been invited to my friends' renewal of wedding vows, which will be followed by a small gathering at a restaurant. Do I bring a gift? If so, do you have any suggestions about what's appropriate?

    A reaffirmation of vows almost always coincides with the couple's anniversary, so, yes, take a gift to your friends' gathering (unless the invitation specifically states "no gifts"). If they're celebrating a milestone anniversary, you might select an item made of the material associated with that year (e.g., silver or pewter for a twenty-fifth). Other suggestions: an item for their home or hobby, such as a picture frame, a special book, a bottle of champagne, or bulbs or tools for their garden.

  • Are the bride's parents expected to pay most of the wedding costs if the engaged couple have already lived together for two years?

    When a couple have lived together for any length of time (certainly for as long as two years), they're usually expected to pay some or all of their own wedding expenses. Of course, the bride's (or groom's) parents may pay or help pay if they wish.
  • Wedding Etiquette: Invitations

  • What's the best way to let guests know that children are not invited to a wedding and reception?

    Even when the invitations don't include children, it's best to tell family and close friends -- and ask them to spread the word. But it's incorrect to write "no children, please" on an invitation.

  • What can be done about a guest who doesn't RSVP to a wedding invitation?

    If an invitee hasn't responded within a reasonable length of time, it's appropriate to call or write the person to ask if she or he plans to attend.

  • How should a wedding invitation be worded when...

    ...the bride's parents are divorced and only her mother and stepfather are paying for the wedding?

    Mr. and Mrs. James Samuel Harper

    request the honour of your presence
    at the marriage of her daughter

    Elizabeth Ann Jones


    ...the bride's parents, who have divorced and remarried, are sharing the wedding expenses and acting as co-hosts?

    Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Blair Brown


    Mr. and Mrs. Robert Rushin

    request the honour of your presence
    at the marriage of

    Susan Jean Rushin


    ...the bride's parents and the groom's parents are sharing wedding expenses?

    All are cohosts of the wedding, so the wording would be similar to the above example, with the bride's parents listed first.

    ...the bride and groom send out their own invitations?

    The honour of your presence is
    requested at the marriage of

    Ms. (or Miss) Elizabeth Allen Clark


    Mr. Carlton Howe


  • The son whom I put up for adoption when he was a baby is getting married. We were reunited three years ago and have a great relationship (he calls me Mom, and his adoptive parents refer to me as Jim's mom). Would it be all right for me to be acknowledged on the wedding invitations along with his adoptive parents? If so, what would be the correct way to word the invitation?

    If you're paying your fair share of the wedding expenses, then your name should be included. If you're not, then it's up to your son, his fiancée, and the hosts to ask you if you wish to be included — in which case, it's okay.

    If all the parents are to be included on the invitation, it would read:

    Mr. and Mrs. (bride's parents' names)


    Mr. and Mrs. (groom's adoptive parents' names)


    Mrs. (or Ms.) (your name)

    request the honour of your presence at

    the marriage of their children

    (bride's name)


    (groom's name)

    Date and Time


  • Wedding Etiquette: Bridal Showers

  • If you're invited to a bridal shower but can't attend, are you expected to send a gift anyway?

    No, although you might want to send one to the hostess's home ahead of time if the bride-to-be is a close friend.

  • Should someone who was invited to a shower also be invited to the wedding?

    Yes. An exception: coworkers who give the bride-to-be an office shower.

  • If you give a bride-to-be a shower gift, is it also necessary to give a wedding

    Yes, but the shower gift needn't be as expensive or elaborate as the wedding gift.

  • May a second-time bride-to-be be given a wedding shower?

    Certainly. It's best, however, to make it a small, intimate gathering. If possible, the guest list should be composed of friends who didn't attend showers for the first marriage.

  • Are showers for women only?

    Not any longer. Today's showers are often planned as "couples" parties that include the groom and male guests. It's good to designate a theme of interest to both the bride and groom, such as cooking, gardening, or a sport. An especially fun theme is a "round-the-clock shower" to which each guest brings a gift appropriate to the time of day or night specified on his or her invitation.

  • Is a bride-to-be required to write thank-you notes for all shower gifts?

    Although always appreciated, notes are not obligatory if she has already thanked the guests in person for gifts opened at the shower. It is necessary, however, for her to write to anyone who sent a gift but was unable to attend or to a guest she was unable to thank at the party.

  • Is it proper for a future mother-in-law to host a bridal shower for the bride-elect?

    The tradition holds that immediate family members — mothers, sisters, future mothers-in-law — don't give showers for the bride-to-be. The reason is that it seems self-serving for someone so close to the couple to issue an invitation that, in effect, asks for gifts. There are exceptions, however, such as when a bride comes from far away to get married in her groom's hometown.

  • My fiancé and I have lived together for three years and have a 1-year-old son. We plan to get married early next year. Would it be appropriate for me to have a wedding shower?

    Once you've set the date for your wedding, it would be perfectly appropriate for a friend to host a shower for you. Wedding showers are usually held between a few months and a few weeks before the ceremony.

  • Is there a way to give my friend a bridal shower even though she recently moved to a new city and won't be returning to our hometown until just before the wedding?

    Sure. You can throw her a proxy shower, which is a perfectly acceptable way for friends to honor a bride-to-be who can't be with them. During the party, the guests usually phone the bride-to-be to say hello and wish her well. They sometimes also write short messages on a joint card and send it to her. Sometimes the hostess will ask that the gifts be brought to the party unwrapped so that everyone can see them. The guests then wrap their gifts at the shower, and the hostess mails them to the bride.
  • Wedding Etiquette: Gifts

  • If you receive a wedding announcement, but not an invitation, are you required to send the couple a gift?

    You may send a gift, but it's not obligatory.

  • If you've been invited to a wedding and reception but can't attend, are you required to send a gift anyway?

    You're not required to send a gift, but usually you'll want to, unless you don't know the bride or groom well or haven't seen the couple or their families in years.

  • What are the guidelines for enclosing a bridal registry information card — plus a list of suggested gifts and prices — in a wedding invitation?

    Don't do it. Enclosing gift registry cards with wedding invitations is a new phenomenon — and an inappropriate one. The guideline still stands that it's in poor taste to mention gifts in wedding invitations. Use word of mouth to get the message out about the stores where the couple has registered.

  • Should gifts be brought to the wedding reception or mailed to the newlyweds?

    Customs vary among religions, ethnic groups, and localities. In some cases gifts are brought to the reception; more typically, they're mailed (or delivered by the store where purchased) to the newlyweds.

  • What's the acceptable length of time in which a couple should send thank-you notes for wedding gifts?

    Thank-you notes should be written as soon as possible, within three months after the date of the wedding.

  • When giving a check as a wedding present, should it be made out to the bride, the groom, or both?

    A gift check is usually written to both bride and groom unless they prefer it be made out to just one of them.

  • Is it true that a guest should spend the same amount of money on a wedding gift that the hosts spend on each guest at the reception?

    No. The amount spent on a gift should be based on the guest's affection for the couple and their families as well as the guest's financial situation.

  • When a bride opens a money gift, should she announce the dollar amount?

    No. The bride should thank her guests for the check without mentioning the amounts. It is appropriate, however, for the bride to mention the amount, as well as how it may be used, in the thank-you note.

  • I was unable to attend an old friend's wedding a year and a half ago and never sent her a gift (I was ill, then simply put it off). I'm really embarrassed because I'm still very fond of her. Is it too late to send something?

    Since you care about this friend, I think it would be fine to send her a gift now. (Of course, presents are preferably sent before the wedding or shortly thereafter.) I suggest you include a note saying you're sorry for the delay but you wanted her to have the gift, and offer your best wishes.

  • A coworker called off her wedding nearly two months ago but hasn't yet returned the wedding or shower gifts she received. Isn't she supposed to do that fairly quickly? Would it be tacky to ask her if she plans to do so?

    Yes to both questions. She should return gifts, with the exception of monogrammed ones, as soon as possible. If her wedding plans included a huge guest list, two months isn't an overly long time— but she shouldn't take longer than a few months.